Friday, August 15, 2008

What is an online community?
Well what a couple of weeks it has been! I have enjoyed reading other’s ideas (as well as the required readings) on this topic. A new world is being opened up to me leaving me with the urge to learn so much more!

Any community has to have a purpose – a “reason for being”. Whether it is a community of practice at work, something that develops through your child’s school PTA or the local gym, people gravitate towards each other or gather together for a reason.

Communities in the past were often characterised as having geographic location as a principal commonality. The barrier of having to travel was a hindrance to forming extended communities. Looking back at my early childhood in rural Ireland we were very insular, rarely travelling to the “big” towns or having much interaction with others outside of our own “community”. Outsiders (I remember some of the first “foreigners” to come to live in our town!) were viewed with suspicion and had to work very hard to become an accepted member of our community. This could by the way take years! Having said that, I remember the sense of local community being very strong, help was never far away. You knew you were safe in that community. Do you feel safe in an online community? The level of anonymity probably contributes to the degree of safety felt – unlike in a f2f if you don’t like it, you get out – and probably most other members won’t notice you’ve gone!

In the last couple of decades the context of the term communities has metamorphasised due to technology into countless different areas that could not have been possible if limited to mere geographic location. An online community enables people from all over the world with a similar purpose/interest/need to meet in a virtual world yet still feel “connected” to them even though you probably will never meet f2f.

Human nature means that often many people get left out in a f2f community - the strong confident ones will always take the stage over the shy introverted ones. This still happens online yet in an online community more people (although many are still reticent to interact initially) may engage in communication with others due to the anonymity the web provides. Those who may not feel part of a community in their own town may feel very comfortable in an online community where they can meet with like minded people.

I enjoyed some of the extra readings. From the Communities of Practice by Etienne Wagner, I could relate to the quote: “A community functions with mutual engagement” – where you must interact with others to really feel a sense of “belonging”. Just by joining the FOC08 “Community” as part of my study does not at this early stage necessarily mean I feel part of the community yet – (being one of those more reticent people I mentioned earlier!) - I need to interact more with other members and become more familiar and confident of my role within this community before I think I will feel that sense of “belonging” more.

The Building Online communities’ article typifies this where it states that regular users develop community ownership: if you don’t contribute much – how can you feel part of a community?

I’ve discovered that the level of “hard work” involved to become a member of an online community depends on how much the individual wants to get out of it. In an online community more people participate on the fringes than in a community which involves f2f or close personal interaction. I think there is less “peer pressure” from an online community, more people “lurk” waiting for the right opportunity to have their say or input their idea. In a f2f situation someone akin to a “lurker” would be viewed with suspicion!

I look forward to continuing this journey into online communities!


Leigh Blackall said...

I really like how you have related your impression of an online community to your memory of community when your were growing up. I think this is a great way to reflect on the true meaning of the word, that will help us cut through the marketing and other stuff, where everything wants to be seen as a community.

I wonder if you could offer some links to the things you refer to? Which discussions in particular got you thinking? Which readings?

If you add hyperlinks to the locations of the specific things that had you thinking at the time, that way we can see exactly what you are refering to, and you will be able to more easily recall things when in a few months from now you will come back and read through what you wrote :)

Here's a little video on how to make a hyperlink

Elaine Dittert said...

Thanks Leigh for your comments and suggestions - I'll work on that one!

Elaine Dittert said...

Figured it out Leigh! Thanks for the link :-)

Sylvia Currie said...

Such interesting thoughts here, Elaine! A couple things jumped out at me.

You mention anonymity as possibly contributing to feeling safe online. This is a concept I've often wondered about, and I've always thought we need a better word to describe the reasons for this new found confidence. In many ways individuals put themselves out there even more in an online environment, revealing much more personal information and expressing feelings much more easily. Yet these same individuals may be the introverts you speak about in the f2f environment. So if it's not anonymity then what? I think some of it has to do with the ability to communicate more clearly and confidently when away from the pressures of a f2f setting.

The second point that jumped out was your comment about the level of hard work involved to become a member of an online community. This is an area I really struggled with in my previous work in faculty support. University/college administrators don't see online community as an efficient use of time. Faculty don't take the time to from colleagues or to participate in online community enough to understand the benefits. They want just-in-time support from a designated person on campus. How to convince these people that they can get a lot out of participation in online communities if they give a little back?

Enjoying your blog! You've got a knack for combining your personal reflections and musings with some really important questions and ideas. :-)

Hillary Jenkins said...

Hi Elaine
Was wondering if you have any resources on interpretation in tour guiding you would care to share eg. multmedia etc

Also would you like to become part of a community of practise around the tourism area.

Elaine Dittert said...

Hi Sylvia
Thanks for your comments. Being very new to this area all I can do is relate the issues Leigh is putting to us to my previous experiences.
I agree with you that online communities tend to generate more confidence in people who would not show it in a f2f situation. I think a lot of it comes down to the perceived lack of peer pressure, so many don't want to be seen as saying or doing the wrong thing! Online no one can see your blush of embarrassment!
You are right as well in saying that you only get out of something what you put in - the more involvement in an online community you have, the more satisfaction I think you will get from belonging to that community!

Elaine Dittert said...

Hi Hillary
I've left a comment on your tourism blog, yes I'd be interested in joining your tourism community of practice!

Joy said...

Hiya Elaine,

I totally agree that we feel more sage in online community due to the anoymity. And I think there's less pressure too when asynchronous communication occurs. Think about my own experience, as English is not my first language, I did find it's easier to "talk" / post within online community, especially when I contact with peers asynchronously. So I have more time to check if the words I used are correct and if my post / article express myself clearly. While in a f2f class maybe some of students who are not confident with their English or quite introvert will choose to be silent.

By the way, the apperance of your blog looks really excellent ^_^